Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Home, Sweet Home - Sanghun Lee

It was the English Composition class when I first came across the Highrise website. The scenes of Johannesburg struck me. People were robbed in Johannesburg. They were robbed of their safety and happiness. As I walked back towards my dormitory, I kept thinking about the horrified faces that peered from behind the broken walls.

Room 404, Korean Minjok Leadership Academy's school dormitory. I look at the spider trapped in the double window. I open the window and let it in. Outside it is dark. I check my watch -- four o'clock. It should not be this dark yet. The hailstorm must have brought the clouds with it. The tapping of the ice on the ground becomes clearer and louder as I lean toward the window. Soon the taps are thuds, and then bangs echoing the front yard. Sounds like gunshots.

Gunshots. The echo of a distant gunshot makes the knives shiver as the family sits down around the chicken. Chicken is rare for dinner. This time it took two hours to do it properly, because water has been cut off in the apartment. The apartment hijacker who took over the owners has blocked water. The residents call him "Hitler". The family has been paying rent every months, though -- ever since the woman who lived alone next door refused to pay and died the next day. And just last month, two bodies were found in the apartment dump. And one with only one eyeball, too.

Out the window is an old building under renewal. This, too, was a hijacked apartment until the eKhaya threw out the hijackers two weeks ago. People say that the workers there found a debris of a skull immured in the elevator. There will be no more deaths, though. The eKhaya is bringing security. People no longer drink or do drugs. They do not throw objects out the window -- just this apartment. Soon peace will reach here as well. Bang, a gunshot.

This is the story of Johannesburg. Highrise of old buildings and maze of filthy streets, the haven of all criminals. Thankfully, I have never seen such violence in my hometown, never lived in such a chaos. My own town up in Seoul has dirty streets and dilapidated houses, too, but I heve never found terror in them. Instead, I have found beauty and peace.

My home, West Ichon, is an old place predominantly settled by the poor, much like Johannesburg. When I looked out my window, normally I would see an uneven line of old and dirty houses, in rainy days a dismal sight, but when the sun was high and the sky was blue, I would see a beautiful picture of a peaceful country village, one that the President could proudly hang on his bedroom wall. Just out the window on the opposite side of the house, I could see the Han River. Every once in a while when I woke up early in twilight, I would see the river that glowed in blue and the silhouette of skyscrapers that embroidered the horizon.

Indeed, the people there were peaceful. When the few students who live here headed off to school early in the morning, old ladies came out and gathered around an old tree and sat on the bench there to chat. Some others would take a walk. And I could feel the peace in my room. Just by looking out my window my troubles would fade away. My family enjoyed the peace there. We always watched birds that sat on the tree branches outside, and in autumn picked persimmons off the branhes to eat with dinner.

If my home is peaceful, the student dormitory in which I now live is active to its heart. Every now and then I hear voices shouting out pleasure and people singing as they walk in the corridors. In the morning, as early as six o'clock, people begin to wake up and run out to do their morning exercise. Morning is a lively frenzy when people fill the cafeteria, when they gobble up thier food and run back to their rooms, clean their rooms and finish their neglected homework. At night, people work their eyes on books or chat with their roommates. At nine o'clock, I can hear people singing and playing guitar and people having (playful) fistfights on their beds.

The dorm is the only highrise in this region. Cafeteria is the highest floor, so there I can see everything outside -- miniature people walking to classes, farmers beginning their work outside of the school's boundary, and cars passing by the highway. Small buildings, trees, and half of Mt. Deokgo. From the dormitory cafeteria I can see the entire Sosa. When snow comes, many people breaks the law to gather on the roof and meet the first snow of the year. Sometimes people go up on their own to see the stars and enjoy the peace and solitude. The dormitory supplies the students with everything from work to rest, and from sadness to happiness.

I do not live in slums where people disappear after gunfights; I do not live under hijackers who constantly threat the lives of my family. Artefacts are found in construction sites, not skulls. From my birth, I have lived in the most peaceful places (however poor), and I have never worried about drugs, weapons, and death that the dwellers of Johannesburg have to consider all the time. Never have I been thankful for my environment, however.

The spider that I just let in is busily building its home under my desk. Now that I come to think about home, I have always felt home a home. Out my window, the hail has changed to snow. Perhaps I should be a lot more thankful for my life.

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